Tell Me What You Would Have Done Differently at Work

Businessmen in job interview
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When interviewers ask you questions about things you would have done differently at work, they want to gain insight into your job-related weaknesses. They may also be attempting to determine how you respond to failure, and whether you can identify and address your shortcomings proactively.

If you think about this question ahead of time, you won’t find yourself swallowing hard and struggling to find an answer during your interview. The best approach is to know how to “spin” your answer so you can demonstrate how you’ve reflected upon and learned from past experiences. 

How to Prepare an Answer

When you're preparing a response, reflect on your past work experiences and make a list of situations that didn't turn out the way you would have liked. Think about the actions you took (or didn’t take), and how they resulted in a less-than-ideal outcome. Identify similar scenarios you encountered again after those initial disappointments, but where you performed differently. What did you learn from the negative result, and what did you do to strengthen your ability to handle similar situations in the future?

Examples of the Best Answers

Be prepared to mention any steps you took to upgrade your skills, increase your knowledge base, or modify counterproductive behaviors. Turn your weakness into a learning opportunity, and share the ways you gained new skills for problem-solving. Maybe you have taken a workshop or sought out advice from a mentor. The reason you would have done it differently now is that you took the initiative to learn how to handle a difficult situation to get a positive outcome.

For example, you might have had an early experience as a manager when you allowed an individual with a negative personality to interfere with the group dynamics of your team. If in a subsequent management experience you took an assertive approach by coaching a similar employee to change his behavior (or leave the unit), then you might reference the initial incident as something you would have done differently. You can give examples of how the first experience showed you the consequences of allowing the employee’s behavior to erode the team morale, inspiring you to expand your skills so you were able to put a stop to the issue before it became a problem the next time.

Given your subsequent experience, you can say that you did handle it differently later on, and alleviate any concern the employer might have about your toughness or assertiveness as a manager. If you consulted Human Resources, attended a workshop on handling difficult employees, or employed another strategy to address the weakness, then you should surely mention the specific steps you took to enable your improved response. 

Be Careful When You Respond

Naturally, you should avoid referencing any scenarios revealing weaknesses that would interfere with you carrying out key elements of the job, unless you can offer clear substantiated facts that those weaknesses are no longer an issue.

Interviewers ask about weaknesses for a variety of reasons. They want to know how self-aware you are, and whether you have the ability to be critical of your own performance. Everyone has weaknesses, and employers want to know you understand yours, take active steps to learn from them, and avoid allowing them to create problems at work.

You don’t want to give the interviewer an opportunity not to hire you because of concerns about your ability to do the job.

Be Honest

As with all interview responses, be sure to select issues you can discuss honestly and sincerely, since interviewers will usually notice fabrications. Stretching the truth during an interview can make it difficult to keep your story consistent. Depending on the extent and depth of your lies, this can cause a job offer to be withdrawn. You can even be fired for lying during the application process after you have been hired.

Be Prepared

Spending some extra time preparing for your interview is well worth it. You worked hard just to score the interview, and you deserve the best shot possible at a job offer. Practice answering interview questions with a friend or mentor, so you're ready to respond.

The more you know about a company going into the interview, the better prepared you can be to answer tough questions about your qualifications.

Making the effort to familiarize yourself with the company’s practices and corporate culture can help you anticipate what kinds of questions you’re likely to be asked, and how to frame your responses in a way that will be received positively. Finally, make sure you dress appropriately, and be polite to absolutely everyone you meet.